In talking about my new book Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine, everyone seems to want to know about the writing and research process. Writing a book can seem like some kind of miracle. It can also seem like some tortuously difficult endeavor that is hard to fully comprehend and explain to those who haven’t done it. It’s a little bit of both.
As a historian, the work of writing a book really breaks down into two parts: researching and writing. I take a lot of notes. How many? Here’s my stack of typed notes:
There’s lots of highlighting by major themes for each chapter:
And scribbling of ideas on random slips of papers and folders as I come up with common themes, chapter ideas, questions, possible ways to phrase things:
That stack, with all its highlights and scribblings, becomes a book – slowly, painfully slowly – after lots and lots and lots of editing. The first draft often bears little, if any, resemblance to the printed product. I rewrote every chapter more times than I can even recall. The miraculous part of book writing may be that something coherent even emerges in the end. But it does, if you stick with it.